Manifesto 2024

Three policies to put coastal schools on a course to success

Coastal schools continue to face very specific challenges that require a new approach - and the same approach would benefit everyone

Coastal schools continue to face very specific challenges that require a new approach - and the same approach would benefit everyone

Seamus Murphy

21 Jun 2024, 5:00

While much of the current educational conundrums are familiar to the educators working in coastal communities, these ‘sea wall’ seats have additional complexities of their own.

These include, in no particular order: a decline in traditional employers; increasing levels of poverty; higher-than-average percentages of children with disabilities; and transport links that make it a struggle to recruit high-quality staff. 

As a result, schools by the coast are more likely to have lower outcomes and lower Ofsted grades than their equivalents in urban areas. Isolation means they are also less likely to access school-to-school support. 

Those schools and trusts that are making inroads into the coastal challenge typically have a strong focus on community, collaboration and curriculum. 

Schools as service hubs

First, schools and trusts are always more effective when they understand the needs of their community and develop strong partnerships with parents. This is doubly the case for coastal schools where some have lost faith in public services. 

At Turner Schools,  we have developed ‘Turnerstone’, a dedicated space in our most challenging secondary school that serves as a base for the local food bank, early help and adult education services as well as youth services after school. 

Services in coastal communities are under enormous strain. School-based partnerships offer a route to early intervention that is both educationally sensible and saves money in the long run.

In addition, for some coastal communities where employment is at a historical low point (like Dover), schools need time and resources to develop strong links with the remaining local employers as well as regional players.

Centring the school as a place where pupils and parents can access high-quality support can do much to change a sense in many coastal communities of being left behind.

Reward collaboration

Second, unlike in big cities where parents can exercise choice, schools by the sea are often the only option for parents.

Therefore, they have to educate the children on their doorstep, especially those who face additional barriers due to deprivation or SEND. There simply isn’t the option to shut up shop to certain groups of children, which can – and sadly does – happen in other parts of the country.

Collaboration across phases, schools and trusts allows leaders to deliver genuine improvements around inclusion, alternative provision and employment destinations. 

In spite of competition and marketisation, for example, leaders in East Kent are developing genuinely innovative, collaborative approaches to school improvement and post-16 provision. 

By collaborating with FE, special schools and the local authority, pupils in Dover and Folkestone now have a cohesive and ambitious local offer at post-16 that means they don’t need to travel ten miles to access learning. 

An incoming government should explicitly reward collaboration and cooperation, using locality-based models to support partnerships that will genuinely sustain improvements in our coastal schools and colleges.

Locally grown success

Third, coastal schools desperately need the freedom to teach a more diverse and appropriate curriculum. Arguably, the current model at key stage 4 only serves the needs of the top 60 per cent and acts as a massive barrier to improving coastal schools. 

Many leaders are still reluctant to depart from the dominant model and develop pathways and options that lead to meaningful futures for their pupils. But some do swim against the tide.

One of our secondary schools in Folkestone has developed a horticulture centre in partnership with Sir Roger De Haan. All pupils in key stage 3 are taught horticulture science with an option to pursue the subject into key stage 4 even though the qualification is not recognised in the performance tables. 

As well as the obvious mental health and wellbeing benefits of learning to grow your own food, the subject furnishes our students with skills they may come to need in the local economy. Horticulture in Kent turns over roughly half a billion pounds annually and employs 6 per cent of the local workforce in south and east Kent. 

Galvanising the community, rewarding genuine collaboration, and unlocking the curriculum will improve all our schools – but particularly so our schools by the sea.

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